Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's a System

Nifty diagram I made. (click to enlarge)

I recreated Urie Bronfenbrenner's contextual perspective/Ecological Systems Theory diagram from my Adolescent Development textbook, but made it with a few changes. Now, it relates to you and your goal(s) for health. I'll describe the basics and then explain how you can apply it to yourself.

Let's briefly go over the systems this model is composed of, which are:
  • Microsystem - Immediate interactions with others
  • Mesosystem - Connections & interactions of the microsystems
  • Exosystem - Environmental
  • Macrosystem - Governmental & cultural
  • Chronosytem - Time
Good so far? If not, don't worry, it will be easy enough to follow along.

Ok, but how does this diagram work? Let's see.
  • Center - It's your current status in regards to where you ultimately want to be. For someone wanting to lose fat, the end goal is the desired body/look. On the other hand, for a powerlifter, the end goal is a certain number for the big 3 competition lifts (squat, bench, deadlift). When the desired state is achieved, it also must be maintained.
  • Microsystem - This is all verbal communication. Basically, how others talk to you about your goal. Do they support you? do they criticize what you're doing? Positive feedback is the best, as is any social support.
  • Mesosystem - Interactions. When you eat with a friend, will they pick a healthy meal over the junk to reinforce the good habits you're trying to maintain? If you're with family on the weekends, are they doing activities to keep your fitness levels up? or are they watching TV all day? Is school/work becoming overwhelming that it affects your entire schedule? is it making you so busy that you can't make it to the gym or it makes you miss a meal? The paired relationships aren't set in stone. For example, you can change the meal with friends scenario to meals with family. Same rules apply. The main question is, is it helping you?
  • Exosystem - What's in your area? Are the places to eat nearby serving quality food? or is it a KFC? Can you go for a walk in the park? Is your gym spacious and conducive to your goal or is it always busy? Is the local grocery good?
  • Macrosystem - What's your state's regulations on certain produce like raw milk or black currants? Do you still believe in popular fitness myths? What about the current fads? do you follow them or stick to a structured program? Still under the assumption long distance cardio is the best exercise for weight loss and portion-controlled eating is healthy?
  • Chronosystem - Directly refers to your progress to your goal (knowledge gained, overcoming plateaus) while indirectly is the changes over time in the general population (becoming more inactive, obesity increasing), new equipment (sandbags, kettlebells, bands, etc.), less organic food, new diets, and the recession affecting (or not) the costs regarding your health.
As you can see, that's more expansive than the basics stated earlier.

Now, what kind of post would this be if I just left it at that? Let's use an example.

We have 3 people living in 3 different areas, and they're all trying to lose weight. 1) Guy living in an apartment in the so-so section of a city. 2) College kid living on campus. 3) Working man in the suburbs.
  1. Jason lives in a big city, so no need for a car, he just walks everywhere. But since he doesn't earn enough to live in a nicer place, he winds up having to shop at a grocery store that barely keeps fruits & vegetables and relies on the local pizza & fast food places. He doesn't even know of a gym within walking distance from his place, so forget lifting weights. He wants to slim down, but with the options he has, it's tough. He has to be creative with whatever he has access to (which isn't much). He reads up on all the new fitness information. Best thing he learns is how to make his own equipment to work out with. John is on his way to becoming more active and starting a healthier life.
  2. Billy's in college living the good life. He also walks everywhere since he lives on campus. He relies on the dining hall for meals or the places located around campus. The good thing is his dining hall has a full salad bar and the closest place to his dorm that's remotely healthy is Subway. Making his own meals is hard work, especially since the grocery store near him is small and not too great itself. On top of that, everyone else Billy knows indulges in fried foods, sweets, and beer. Self-control is ridiculously hard when all his friends are having a good time. But he stays strong and makes use of the university gym to take control of his life.
  3. Zack works the 9-5 and lives in a typical suburban town. Everything around him requires a car, so no walking for him. Since he lives in a nice area with a car, he has the benefit of shopping at a Trader Joe's and/or Whole Foods to buy his groceries from. Organic wholesome fruits, veggies, and nut butters, yum yum for Zack. Unfortunately, he only has commerical gyms near him that are $50 a month, yikes! He reluctantly stays as a member, despite the burden it puts on his wallet. As a result, he has to exercise in a crowded gym, where he not only wastes his money, but his time as well. Luckily, his family and friends support his efforts to lose that beer belly from college. Also, they don't mind eating at the restaurants nearby rather than the greasy fast food franchises. It's quality food for them and him. Zack might not be an exercise expert, but the other parts of his life are helping him lose weight.
Of course, I could go on and on, but hopefully this was enough to help you understand the whole point of this post. Whatever your goal is, (health-wise, financially, life in general) remember, it's a system.

Understand the parts it's made up of, and learn how to use them the best you can.


  1. I love that you put so much work into this diagram! Also, the arrows remind me of equilibrium equations, which I enjoy.

    Your examples are fantastic, and it's nice that they have an underlying message that it's possible to get fit no matter the circumstances. Hope you had a good day! =)

  2. Thanks Kim and good to hear that you enjoyed the diagram. As long as someone finds it good, it was well worth the effort!

    Hopefully others will take the time to read it and not wanna kill me for the long post. :O


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